Cecil Taylor

Cecil Taylor (1929-2018),  New York City,  April 15, 1991. Photo by Allen Ginsberg courtesy Stanford  University Libraries/Allen Ginsberg Estate

Jazz musician, poet, savant, Cecil Taylor was born on this day

Cecil verbatim – July 16, 1994,  (from a Naropa University Colloquium on Ethnopoetics)

“I think forces determine form and what I’m speaking of are the different elements of  existence. I’m not too concerned about the defining of the civilization that we live in if it means that it is the end of anything rather than a continuation, for, if we look at the serdab Subud in Giza we will be able to see very clearly the relationship of the Subud and.. to Khan – K-H-A-N – tubular construction that resulted in the Sears Building and the Hancock Building.  What I’m more concerned about is the concept of growth, growth as manifested through the suspended cycles and indentation which determine the evolution of time.

To find our origins, in spite of the role of the conqueror, is perhaps the most important thing, because it breaks down all divisions which are not real (i.e. all people must struggle to find the core). I want all to see that which is in themselves singularly beautiful. So, for me, the search began with the realization that my grandfather on my father’s side was a full-blooded  Kiowa, (mother, mother, was a full-blooded Cherokee), and all the other – the name being Taylor (well, we know what that’s about!). Therefore the search began “in spite of…”.  And, as one is fortunate enough to be here, one is also fortunate enough to have been in Begur when the great Carmen Amaya was honored by them building (her) a villa, and, having had the opportunity to see it, feel it, to have its magic completely instruct (in terms of vision) what is possible, (that was) not, not different from, at the age of twelve-years old,  when I walked down Fifty-Seventh Street and said..  (they had in front of this club, men with epaulets on) – “Kid, where are you going?” – “I’m going to see Billie Holiday” – And.. uh – the ferocity of the desire!  And he looked at me and said, “Young man, follow me”.  And he took me to the end of the bar and he called to the bartender and he said, “Bring this young man any soda that he wants. It was not..  seeing that magnificence, it was not really any different from seeing the magnificence of Carmen Amaya,  or Plisetskaya, or Bojangles

What we have to realize (perhaps, only perhaps), there is no accident. Form is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Here we are sitting in here on the flat iron and the clouds are moving. Form can be clouded by the conqueror’s might, power, money, whatever.  To support my contention of the relatedness of the human experience – H-A-R existed before RA.  So what I’m talking about, then, is kinetic education – K-N-T,  K-N-T – talking about Wasai and Wasa I’m not talking about Thebes or Tut or Thoth. I may be talking about Te Kooti I’m not talking about the Temple of Mysteries. I’m talking about not Karnak or Luxor  I’m talking about Kirkuk  Where the ninety-nine confessions were conceived and if one looks and reads of the ninety-nine Negative Confessions one can understand very easily where the Ten Commandments came from. I’m talking about the search that establishes our link. There is no empire which is independent of the great civilizations which preceeded it. So I think of it rather as a continuum, rather than an end. And I think in terms of we are sitting here talking, when we know that Jupiter is going to be impacted-upon this afternoon! (ha ha ha!)
I’m not interested, necessarily, in possessions, I’m interested in sharing. In order to create one must become as open as possible (before we even begin to talk about music, because, the thing about music is, is that it is just one of the manifestations of creation). I’m talking about how does one go about training to become a musician? Is it really any different to the most primal organizational processes that any creative person does?
It is the training, if you’re going to be a musician, it is the training of ones senses, here, inside, to respond to sound. This idea of a composition is always very amusing to me (and I think every culture has a right to define what that is) But, you know, trying to get to the specific basic organizational grid of what the sound is and how one can relate to it. Improvisation is not something that is just picked out of the air. Improvisation is the training of one’s senses, hearing senses, to be able to construct grids – (I love that word “grid”, because if you look at the bascule or the helical bridges in Germany – (that’s a German creation), as opposed to the suspension bridges (which are lovely too, but once you confront (a) bascule bridge (which, you know, is more economical, and safer – ha ha!) – then you understand that we, who are…  (who) brought “the forces of Liberty” and destroyed all the bridges, (as we did in the infrastructure of Iraq) [Taylor is looking back on American involvement in the recently-completed First Gulf War] – two hundred thousand people (many of them children) [estimated civilian deaths] – Then what did we miss? – We missed the oil, I guess.
Therefore, being blessed with the opportunity of being here and hopefully imparting  (some of the musicians) that we are not only musicians but our responsibility as human beings. And, if in our attempt to develop a language (because I’m interested in having young people develop a language, rather than be a continuation of ideas of those professorios who have tenure). The idea is to, like, stimulate in them their own creative birth process. Because finally it is about the celebration of life, rather than the continuation of something that is historically past, perhaps. Somerset Maugham said the tradition does not have to be a  prisoner [Editorial note – “Tradition is a guide and not a jailer”], it can be a.. the.. It depends on how one views history. There are several other things that go into determining the shape of music before the sound – the land, the language, the food, the topography, obviously, what has been given to us through our ancestors.  And then the training only begins when.. when one has found, once again, that core which allows us to bring all that is possible. There are many forces of alliance if one loves to read, if one loves to paint, if one loves to dance, if one loves to look at buildings, if one loves to look at this and then one goes and paints or dances or makes music. There are commonalities that go beyond the political because there is a very small percentage of the population of the world that control the destinies, the economics, but beyond that after civilizations and empires fall, what is remembered? – the Kabuki – thank you.”


October 10th, 2004 – Cecil Taylor gave the first of the Master Classes Series presented by NYU in conjunction with Artists House

from Christopher Felver’s 2005 documentary – All The Notes

Cecil (from a poetry reading, ‘Teatro Comunale”, Bologna, Italy, October 12, 2007)

Posthumously, 2019 – Unit Structures – The Art of Cecil Taylor Conference

Chris Funkhouser’s 1994 interview with Cecil (originally published in Hambone) is an absolutely must-read

David A Graham writes of the “Deceptively Accessible Music of Cecil Taylor.” in The Atlantic here.

Alex Ross writes of “Cecil Taylor and the Art of Noise” in The New Yorker

To conclude – more Cecil Taylor (from 1984)

Free Jazz

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